Euro 2020 analysis: Joachim Low finally discovers the secret of Havertz, and what you can do with width
After Germany's emphatic, and surprising, 4-2 victory over Portugal Pete Sharland looks at the subtle tactical tweaks manager Joachim Low made after the disappointing 1-0 defeat to France in the opening game. Is this now a team that can go far or should we be more disappointed by the performance of Portugal?
Low: Teams who play perfect in first two games rarely win tournaments
Should we really have ever doubted a World Cup-winning manager?
OK yes, we really should have. Joachim Low has overseen damaging defeats since the humiliation of the 2018 World Cup, including 6-0 in Spain and 2-1 at home to North Macedonia . For many it felt as if he was finished at the top level and should have been fired after Russia. Were it not for the results four years prior he surely would have.
He was comprehensively out-thought by Didier Deschamps in Germany’s opening match, unable to find a solution to France’s stubborn low block, although his successor, Hansi Flick, couldn’t figure out that problem in the Champions League either.
Joachim Loew, Head Coach of Germany looks on during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group F match between Portugal and Germany at Football Arena Munich on June 19, 2021 in Munich, Germany
Image credit: Getty Images
For those reasons it’s probably fair to say that eyebrows were raised quizzically a la Carlo Ancelotti when the teamsheets came out and Low, a famously obstinate manager, had still selected the same XI for the game against Portugal. He was decried as an old fool who didn’t know what he was doing before the game. The tone has certainly changed afterwards.
After the first match against France we discussed on our podcast coloration with The Beautiful Game that whilst France had stepped up in the big moments Germany, and crucially Low, had not. It is fair to say that he did so superbly in this match.
The tweaks were subtle, but they were important. Firstly, and most importantly, there was the question of width. At times against France Germany were painfully narrow, as if they were playing ‘The Floor is Lava’ with the two outer thirds of the pitch. It was something he used to great effect in 2014, utilising the passing and movement of players like Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze.
Two of those are gone from the national set-up and two of them are quite a bit older, which is why it was so weird to see Low try and play the same way but throw in Ilkay Gundogan and ask someone like Kai Havertz to do the same. Across Europe a host of young German players have been thrilling audiences all season; to then turn it down to half-speed beggared belief.
Thankfully Low saw what a lot of us did during the France game, Germany are far better when they utilise the width they have, and boy did they do that on Saturday.
Joshua Kimmich was great but his partner in crime on the opposite flank Robin Gosens was absolutely magnificent. He tore Nelson Semedo to shreds on the left-hand side, constantly bursting into space that was created thanks to the intelligent movement of Serge Gnabry.
'Germany were predictable' - Portugal boss after losing 4-2
In the first game Gnabry was an isolated, frustrated figure, he wasn’t being used in the right way. In this game though he was allowed to drift wide and torment Semedo and Ruben Dias, creating the space for Gosens. The Atalanta wing-back was electric all night and his crosses, as evidenced by the goals, were lethal. It was brilliant to watch.
As was the entire game, except for the insistence from Portugal that they didn’t have a problem down the right side. It’s pretty much unforgivable at this level to keep conceding in the same fashion. Even in the final quarter of the game Gosens’ replacement Marcel Halstenbreg was finding a ridiculous amount of space that his team-mate’s couldn’t exploit. Semedo was getting dragged over by Gnabry as the centre-backs weren’t getting any help at all from the holding midfielders. What is it they say about the definition of insanity?
Thankfully Low decided he would mix things up with one of his best players in Havertz. In the first match the Chelsea man looked very much like the Frank Lampard version of Havertz rather than the Thomas Tuchel version. Like Lampard, Low seemed unsure of how best to use this wonderfully mercurial player, who has vision, poise and a wonderful touch, but can often get lost in games. The initial plan of pairing him with Muller behind Gnabry was a good one but it made Germany far too predictable.
Germany's forward Kai Havertz (L) celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Germany's midfielder Serge Gnabry during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Portugal and Germany at Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, on June 19, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
The key, it turns out, was giving him more freedom. It was Havertz who took on the role of his more illustrious colleague Muller, often moving up to make it a front two with Gnabry, or drifting wider to pose questions to the Portugal centre-backs. His movement in the box has been a hallmark of his career and whilst the Portuguese defence leaves a lot to be desired, it’s certainly impressive to watch the Chelsea youngster link up with Gnabry and the wing-backs. It’s easy to get frustrated with Havertz but there is serious talent there and perhaps Low is starting to unlock some of it.
A word too on Muller, who clearly recognised the role he had to take, often staying in the hole to act as a focal point or simply just to occupy the defensive midfielder. Havertz is now the youngest Germany scorer at a major tournament since Muller at the 2010 World Cup, a real handing over the baton moment.
Ironically after where we were a few days ago Germany now have a brilliant chance to finish top of the group, which no-one saw coming. France and Portugal could well take points off of one another and although Hungary have proved themselves as no pushovers, this new Germany has to feel more confident of securing a positive result. Plus with Leon Goretzka getting more minutes under his belt Low has a slightly more dynamic midfield option at his disposal. There is work to be done, what we’ve learnt so far is that no-team is perfect, or even close to it, but this was a huge step in the right direction for Germany for Joachim Low’s last dance.